Learn how to become a volunteer Special Olympics photographer. Meet amazing athletes, document incredible stories, and change your world for the better!
How Marco Catini became a Special Olympics volunteer photographer (and you can, too!)
Today, Marco Catini is a New Jersey-based volunteer Special Olympics photographer with a powerful portfolio of images made at the U.S. Games in Seattle and the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi.
For Marco, volunteer photography is a powerful medium for connecting people and immortalizing meaningful moments—the moments that matter most.
“I learned a lot about humility, respect, and gratitude,” says Marco, whose black and white, behind-the-scenes photographs invite us into the Special Olympics experience.
If, like Marco, you feel called to tell meaningful, visual stories about incredible humans, here’s one way to start…
#1: Wanna photograph special needs athletes? Begin here.
Like most of us caught in the proverbial photography bear trap (seriously, just try to escape), Marco began his photography career with weddings, corporate gigs, architecture… Then, in a burst of curious inspiration, Marco asked if he could photograph a gifted Special Olympics athlete named Michael.
He didn’t know it at the time, but that connection would lead him to where he is today: giving the gift of memories to a resilient, vibrant community.
Contact your local or state Special Olympics program
Simply reach out and ask if they’re looking for volunteer photographers. Many locales are returning to in-person programs now, creating opportunities for photographers who want to help.
The 2022 USA Games will be held in Orlando, FL, and volunteer photographers are always needed for big events!
When you tap into your photography talents to empower your community, heartfelt connections are inevitable. Soon you’ll see your photos through the eyes of those you’ve photographed—as a gift of memories.
#2: Tap into your storytelling power
Marco recognizes Special Olympics athletes as some of the hardest-working individuals he has ever met. “They defy challenges every single day,” he says, and his photos highlight those very human stories.
When photographing athletes with special needs, Marco employs a human-centered approach.
“Capturing the essence of a person is more important than a perfectly clean background or a balanced histogram,” Marco reflects. “Sure, it’s great to have a proper exposure, but I’d rather have a 90% perfect photo of a great moment, than a 100% perfect photo of a mediocre scene.”
#3: Get the right gear
“I used to think that the longer the lens, the better the photography,” admits Marco. “At Special Olympics events, I started to realize that there is a lot more nuance and personality to be discovered from close-ups. I switched from my 70-200mm lens to my 24-70mm, and then even just the 24mm for portraits.”
Marco acknowledges that “the 24mm is not the most typical portrait lens. But,” he says, “getting up-close to the athletes, their families, and volunteers, elicited a reaction from my subjects.”
“Those genuine, spontaneous reactions are what I am looking for. The athletic feats, the joy of victory, and the disappointment of not finishing first are very important parts of these events. But the unguarded moments before and after feel incredibly powerful and personal to me.”
“By using wide-angle lenses, I get into a conversation with people,” Marco explains. “Sometimes it’s just a nod and a smile; sometimes it’s a long talk. These exchanges help me understand what the person wants me to tell about them through my photos. In a way, my work becomes more about what I feel than about what I see.”
#4: Invite others into your story
Photography is always a “giving back” kind of experience—even if you’re getting paid. The memories you document will long outlast any dollar signs, making every picture invaluable in its own way.
Use these methods to share your visual stories and draw new opportunities to your business:
- Create public galleries of your most impactful images. Use your website, your ShootProof homepage, or any other portfolio platform that makes image-sharing easy.
- Use social media to broaden awareness into the work you create. This is a powerful way to highlight your brand’s values and draw attention to causes that matter to you.
- Have model releases and contract templates ready to go in your Contracts workspace. You’ll only be a few clicks away from obtaining that new booking or getting a client’s permission to share their images.
“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
—Special Olympics motto
“My incredible journey started with a leap of faith on my side—and by [Special Olympics athlete] Michael and his family,” Marco shares. “They gave me a chance to learn about him—and thus about myself. No one could have predicted that one day spent photographing him would lead to me being one of the official photographers for Special Olympics USA at the World Games.”
Written by KELLY ACS | Featuring MARCO CATINI